FOOD BANK; Raising Awareness

Article excerpt

People are going hungry every day in Northeast Florida.

How many people? The busy Second Harvest food bank gives an indication.

- About 300 agencies are distributing 4 million pounds of food per year in Duval County. In total, 515 agencies are involved in 18 counties.

- About 65 sites are serving after-school snacks to 3,000 children each day during the school year.

- About 50 sites serve two meals per day to children in the summer.

And this is not filling all the needs.

There is a need of about 12 million pounds of food each year in the 18 Northeast Florida counties served by the Second Harvest food bank.

Their warehouse has the capacity to handle about 6 million pounds, but they actually distribute 8 million pounds by operating in continual crisis mode with good management and creative juggling.

LACK OF AWARENESS

The main problem is that many people just don't realize that hunger is a major issue.

"It will keep you awake, thinking of all the food that is available and the people who need it," said R. Wayne Rieley, president and CEO of Lutheran Social Services, which operates the food bank.

While homeless shelters are the most visible recipients of the food, much of it goes to the working poor, Rieley said.

If you're barely getting by, what happens when your car breaks down? You have to get to work. What happens if a large medical bill occurs? You skimp on food.

The result is food insecurity.

The issue is not always lack of food, but access to healthy food. In low-income areas, there may be fewer grocery stores.

What about food stamps? Many of those who are eligible don't participate. In fact, Jacksonville had one of the lowest participation rates, 51 percent, of 24 urban areas surveyed by the Food Research and Action Center.

Reasons for not participating include lack of awareness, stigma about accepting benefits, difficulties getting to food stamp offices and lengthy verification requirements. …